A Theophany on Patmos, part 1: Revelation 1:9-10

“I John, your brother and participant in the suffering, the kingdom, and the perseverance in Jesus: I was on the island called Patmos because of the word of God and the testimony of Jesus.  I was in the spirit in the day that belongs to the Lord and I heard behind me a voice as great as a trumpet.”

(Revelation 1: 9-10)

 

Again, John states his name.  What is interesting about this is the contrast between John’s statement and the statement of the Old Testament prophets.  The Old Testament prophets almost always gave their pedigree.  Isaiah was the son of Amoz, Jeremiah was the son of Hilkiah, Ezekiel was the son of Buzi, Joel was the son of Pethuel, Jonah was the son of Amittai, etc…  Yet, any form of lineage is absent from John’s introduction.  He does not even list the region that he hails from as many of the prophets do.

What are we to make of this?  It is a reminder that as Christians, our lineage is in Christ and in him alone.  In the Old Testament times, when they were still looking forward with anticipation, there was a need to stand in the authority of their forbears.  As Christians, though we stand gratefully on the shoulders of those who have gone before us in faith, we do not stand on tradition for tradition’s sake.  All we do and all we accept of those who have gone before us, must be judged against the same rule of scripture.  There is no authority for the Christian but God’s word, and there is no lineage either biological or theological that is of any value apart from Christ.  John’s pedigree is “Christian,” and that is enough.

And what role does John play in the larger scheme of things?  John simply says that he is a fellow participator in the things of God.  Like the other writing apostles, John places no merit in his position as an apostle.  He does not use it to rule in authority over men—though as an apostle, he has greater authority over men—but considers himself a brother in faith to his people.  Jesus said, “if anyone wishes to be first, he is to be last of all and servant of all” (Mark 9:35b).  The apostles understood this well and it would do us well to understand this better.

Also note the close connection between suffering, perseverance, and the kingdom of God that John makes.  It is a reminder of Jesus’ words at the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount:

“Blessed are the ones who have been persecuted in the name of righteousness, for to them is the kingdom of heaven.  Blessed are you when they reproach you, persecute you, and say evil and lies of you because of me.  Rejoice and Exalt!  For your reward is great in heaven.  For thus they persecuted the prophets who came before you.”

(Matthew 5:9-12)

To those who would suggest that Christians ought not to suffer—that God only wants us healthy, wealthy, and wise—I commend to you the scriptures.  God’s word consistently tells us that if we are followers of Christ, we will have trials in our life, and they will be abundant.  The world hates the Lord who we serve and we ought to expect to be treated with contempt (John 15:20). 

Why is this?  James tells us that through trial we grow in faith and faith brings perseverance (James 1: 2-4).  In fact, with this in mind, trial is not a curse, but a blessing for it brings us closer to God if we persevere.  Why is this important to bring out?  Because the dispensationalist will tell you that God is going to remove the elect from the world before the great tribulations of Revelation begin.  I ask then, why would God deny his church such a great blessing and privilege as to persevere through even the greatest tribulation? 

Next, John not only gives us his location as he received the revelation, but he further connects himself to the people who are suffering in persecution to whom he is writing.  John is in exile because of his witness and preaching of Jesus.  Living in a modern society, I find John’s state interesting.  We live in an age where we strive to protect our leaders from suffering.  Generals designate their authority to lesser commanders and so forth, orchestrating the battles from a safe distance.  Most church pastors have adopted this mentality.  They tend to do very little “hands on” evangelism and ministry—especially if they serve a large congregation—in favor for training others to do the task.

Don’t get me wrong, there is no way that a pastor can do everything in a church, but because they cannot do everything, many pastors take that to mean that they are not obligated to do anything.  Here we have John, the last living apostle, probably one of the few, if not only, men alive at this point that actually spoke with Jesus face to face, and he is suffering in exile because of his preaching.  John’s example should serve as a reminder to all who would shepherd God’s flock that they will have to sleep under the stars.

Patmos was a little island (about 35 miles in circumference), about 50 miles off the shore of Ephesus in the Aegean Sea.  Roman Emperors would often exile political prisoners on the island.  In this instance, under the reign of Domitian, John is exiled.  We don’t know the details of what got him sentenced apart from the fact that it was because of his faithful testimony to the Gospel.  We learn from Josephus, the Jewish historian, that John was given a pardon after Domitian’s death by Nerva in 96 A.D. and returned to Ephesus.  John was the only Apostle not to suffer the death of a martyr, though he did experience persecution.

John tells us next that it was the Lord’s Day and he was “in the Spirit.”  Though some will debate it, this is pretty clear evidence that by this point, for the Christian, the Sabbath had been moved from Saturday to Sunday (from the last day of the week to the first).  We do this primarily to celebrate the resurrection of Jesus, but it is important for us not to stop there in our understanding of the Christian Sabbath.

Most of the earliest Christian converts were Jewish as well as being Christian.  In fact, they would not have seen a contradiction between the two.  Christianity was the fulfillment of all that Judaism had anticipated.  In practice, then, they usually celebrated both the Saturday Sabbath and the Sunday Sabbath. 

Yet, as Gentiles flooded into the church through the missionary efforts of those like Paul, the Gentiles were not expected to keep all of the requirements that had been placed on the Jews.  The food laws and the circumcision laws were not applied to them.  In fact, the Jerusalem counsel only mandated four restrictions (Acts 15:19-20):

  1. Abstain from things polluted by idols
  2. Abstain from sexual immorality
  3. Abstain from food that has been strangled
  4. Abstain from eating meat that has the blood still in it

Not being required to conform to Jewish tradition, the gentile Christians tended only to keep the Christian, or Sunday, Sabbath, not both. 

  In 70 AD, the Romans came in and sacked Jerusalem, destroying the temple.  When they did this, they went out of their way to eliminate potential pockets of resistance and groups that might form an insurrection.  This helped to drive the wedge even deeper between Christians and Jews, until there was a fairly distinct separation between Christian and Jewish Sabbaths.

Yet, the change from Saturday to Sunday Sabbath-keeping was not simply a historical issue, but a theological issue.  It is important to note the comparison.  In the Old Testament, God’s people are commanded to keep the Sabbath for the following reasons:

  1. To rest from the labors of the week (Genesis 2:1-3)
  2. To commemorate God’s creative work (Exodus 20:11)
  3. To commemorate God’s consecration of His people as a holy and set apart (Exodus 31:12-15)
  4. To gather as a people in the name of God (Leviticus 23:1-3)
  5. To commemorate God’s redemption of His people (Deuteronomy 5:12-15)

As Christians, we look to Christ’s completed work for our hope and as the focus of our Sabbath day.  In turn, we keep the Sabbath for the same reasons, but with a Christological focus.  As Christ was resurrected on Sunday and the Holy Spirit was poured out at Pentecost on Sunday, we celebrate our Sabbath on Sunday. 

  1. The Christian Sabbath is still a needed rest from the labors of the week.
  2. Not only do we commemorate God’s creative work, which was begun on a Sunday, but we anticipate God’s re-creative work in the new heavens and the new earth, which was secured on a Sunday, as it is Christ’s resurrection that secured for us an inheritance that is imperishable, undefiled, and unfading (1 Peter 1:4).
  3. We commemorate God’s election, setting us apart as a holy priesthood (1 Peter 1:14-16).
  4. We gather as a people in the name of the Lord.
  5. To commemorate God’s redemption of His people, not only through the history of redemption, but also in the saving work of Jesus, through which we have been redeemed from our bondage to sin and are being prepared for eternity with Christ in heaven.  Because Christ is resurrected, we have the hope of resurrection as well (Romans 8:29, Colossians 1:18).

 

John also tells us that he was “in the Spirit” when he received the revelation from Jesus.  While there is some discussion as to just what John means, we can at least say that John was involved in worship.  We can say this for a number of reasons.  First of all, his vision was on Sunday, as we previously discussed, which is a day set apart for the worship of God.  Secondly, scripture encourages us to pray with the guidance of the Holy Spirit (Romans 8:26, Jude 20).  And third, we see in Isaiah’s call and probably in Jeremiah’s call, that they were in the context of worship (for are not our souls best prepared for God’s call in this context?).  Isaiah was serving in the temple when God called him.  Though we do not know the context that Jeremiah was in when God called, we do know that he was a priest who resided in the city of Anathoth, which is less than 3 miles from Jerusalem. 

Some will argue that this is referring to a prophetic state that John was in.  John certainly ended up in that state, but to imply that John was in the prophetic state prior to the theophany is difficult to support.  Throughout the scriptures, the Holy Spirit is found to be descending on people in a prophetic way (1 Samuel 19:20-24, Ezekiel 2:2, Acts 10:10, 2 Corinthians 12:2), but what is consistent is that the person has no control over the timing of it.  God is sovereign not only in his creation and his election, but he is sovereign even in his revelation of himself.  My suggestion is that John was involved in sincere prayer and worship and God chose that very appropriate time to reveal himself to him.

We then hear the voice that calls to John from behind.  It is worth noting the imagery that John uses here: it is loud like a trumpet.  Trumpets are used in the Old Testament for a variety of reasons.  It is used to call people together for worship (Exodus 19:13, Leviticus 25:9) or for warfare (Judges 3:27, Nehemiah 4:20).  They were used in worship (Psalm 150:3) and to announce a new king over God’s people (1 Kings 1:34).  But there is one usage that carries over from the Old Testament into the New, and that is the use of trumpets to announce the presence of the Lord (Exodus 19:16-19, Isaiah 27:13, Matthew 24:31, 1 Corinthians 15:52, etc…).  Here John is in the presence of the Lord.

 

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